(April 1974 Courier file photo)
(April 1974 Courier file photo)
Just before 4 p.m., 40 years ago today, the deadliest tornado in Jefferson County history roared through, claiming homes, businesses, schools - and lives.

The worst hit areas were Cragmont Street and Michigan Road on Madison's hilltop, along with the subdivision across the street from Southwestern schools in Hanover.

The Chelsea area also received a significant amount of damage from the storm.

Winds wiped out homes. Photos of the aftermath showed only remnants of once neatly manicured neighborhoods. Debris blocked roads and spread as far as the eye could see.

Initial reports were that seven people - including a mother, her daughter and stepson - had died in the storm. They were:

• Marc Lawson, 2

• Mary Ann Niess, 64

• JoAnn Gividen, 27

• Angela Lynette Gividen, 7

• Daniel Garlinghouse, 38

• Dennis Reese, 10

• Margaret Lawson, 37

Angela Gividen was JoAnn Gividen's daughter, and Dennis Reese was her stepson.

The day after the tornado, 3-year-old Tommy Wayne Dyer and 53-year-old Ruby Blancy Kingery were found dead in Hanover.

On April 18, Bonita Andrew, 48, died in a Louisville hospital from head injuries she sustained in the tornado.

Jefferson County's official death total -  10.

The Madison Courier featured several eyewitness accounts:

Steve Wilson, a local police officer, recalled driving away from the tornado and running from his vehicle for cover when he was thrown into the air and into a ditch. Somehow, he was not injured.

Several reports said the tornado hit the Ohio River and looked like a tidal wave, raising the water up into the air.

John Ross, who lived on West Main Street, was working at Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corp. and saw the tornado bearing down on the town.

"It came down the river like an egg-beater funneling everything up that was in its path," Ross told The Courier after the tornado hit.

IKE suffered major damage. The switch yard, which controls the electricity that leaves the plant, was destroyed.

"We're completely out of service. The switch yard is flat," said Everett Schwarm, the IKE manager at the time.

At Hanover College, the damage was estimated at about $10 million. Only one building on campus was untouched.

One student was caught outside during the tornado but was able to escape serious injury by lying flat on the ground and holding onto a tree trunk.

The storm tore off most of the roof at Southwestern High School. Local schools were closed. Some reopened in about two weeks.

The storms spared downtown Madison from major damage, but the city was without power for hours after the storm.

Jefferson Proving Ground provided generators to pump water to the hilltop. The Madison Police Department worked by candlelight, taking calls and dispatching by battery-operated radio to the parking lot, where cars were then dispatched.

In the day after the tornado, The Courier ran five full pages of photos.

Things were bad in the Courierarea. But this was far from an isolated event.

April 3 and April 4 would later become known as the Super Outbreak. According to the National Weather Service, it was the second largest tornado outbreak on record for a 24-hour period, and the most violent tornado outbreak ever recorded.

A total of 319 people died as a result of the storms.

Tornadoes were seen in 13 states, including Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and New York. Tornadoes were also seen in Ontario, Canada.

In all, there were 148 tornadoes that struck - seven were category EF5, the highest rating for a tornado. Twenty-three were category EF4, including two that hit parts of Jefferson County.

States experienced 18 hours of storms, and accumulated more than $3.5 billion in damages. The National Weather Service said a combination of cool, dry air from the west and warm, moist air from the south combined to form the stormfront.

The tornado that ravaged Hanover and the Madison hilltop started in Clark County around 2:20 p.m., making its way past Hanover and Madison and into Ripley County.

The second tornado started about a half hour later outside of Manville, heading through Switzerland County and into Ohio and Dearborn counties.

There were no tornado-related deaths reported in Switzerland County. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated the total damage in Switzerland County to be about $847,000.

Clean-up efforts began almost immediately. The tornado struck on a Wednesday, but streets weren't completely passable until the following Monday.

More than 600 homes in Madison were damaged. Housing and Urban Development brought 2,000 mobile homes to the community for temporary living. In all, clean-up and rebuilding took several months.

April 3, 1974, has another historic significance when it comes to tornadoes. It is the only time in history an entire state (Indiana) was placed under a tornado warning at one time. In all, 20 tornadoes hit Indiana. Meteorologists had a difficult time tracking all the storms, and simply decided to declare a warning for the whole state.